What will happen when you abstain from voting?

What will happen when you abstain from voting?

In the 13th general election in May 2013, there were 11.2 million out of 13.2 million registered voters who cast their vote, which represented an 85% turnout.

The turnout was unprecedented in all Malaysia’s past general elections and the opposition’s result in the election was also unprecedented.

The opposition was, however, unable to form the government albeit obtaining a 51% popular vote due to gerrymandering. BN, with 47% popular vote, managed to form the government with 133 out of 222 parliamentary seats.

As the 14th general election, which is the mother of all elections, approaches, we are now faced with two challenges: the 4 million unregistered voters and a newly emerged group who intend to abstain from voting.

It is unclear if the group who are planning to abstain from voting is a subset of the unregistered voters or otherwise. In either case, if they do not plan to vote, they effectually become the same group of silent Malaysians whose voices will not be heard.

I assume those in the movement who intend to abstain from voting are relatively informed about what’s going on in politics instead of totally clueless about politics or electoral system, as one of the most heard arguments from the group is “will a change in government change anything at all?”.

We can, therefore, infer that the intention to abstain stems from disappointment towards political parties, rather than misconception that voting is not important.

I can understand the frustration as the government doesn’t seem to be solving the problems when the nation is being named kleptocracy when the economy deteriorates, and when the people are struggling to pay their bills.

Many may also have lost hope from the previous general election as even though the opposition achieved 51% popular vote, BN could still form the government.

Many also have their doubts on Pakatan Harapan, thinking that the policies implemented in Penang and Selangor cannot be done the same at the federal level, hence might as well do nothing at all. There are also people who wish to abstain from voting as a form of protest against the non-existential of a perfect political party.

But what do you think will happen when you abstain from voting? Neither side forms the government? Is such protest in any way meaningful?

In the past, we relied on our experience in understanding and anticipating how would factors such as demography, voters’ age, occupation, race, and region play their part in the election result. However, in the coming general election, all these factors now seem to be less reliable as indicators of voting pattern.

Do the majority of Chinese from rural constituencies necessarily vote for MCA? Do the majority of Malays necessarily vote for Umno? Do the majority of Muslims necessarily vote for PAS? Do the majority of Felda settlers necessarily vote for BN?

All these questions have different answers now as compared to a decade ago. The extent of the differences is the core of discussion amongst Malaysians, especially politicians for the past two years.

Since there are uncertainties as to which political parties will the unregistered voters vote for, why would the opposition want more people to come out and vote?

The primary reason is simple – we believe in a society where its people are proactive in involving themselves in effecting changes to the nation. Only through voting, your voice can be heard and changes become possible.

Besides, politicians who truly believe in their policies, want more people to cast their vote. Any political party with sound policy proposals would want voters to hear them out, make their own assessment, and hopefully, vote for them.

The opposition’s aspiration in setting policies that best serve the people can be attested by our achievements in Selangor and Penang – which is why we are confident in the policies we propose and we want them to be implemented at the federal level.

When we protest, we want our voices to be heard, and corresponding actions to follow. Not casting your vote or casting spoilt votes is not a form of protest but an act of giving up our rights to protest.

If we divide the 4 million unregistered voters evenly across 222 parliamentary seats, we are looking at some 18,000 could-be voters per parliamentary seat who are giving up their rights to be the reason for change for the nation. The movement of abstention will further “delegate” your power to decide your future to others and undermine the spirit of democracy.

Looking at the evolving dynamics in Malaysian politics, we believe that a change in government is possible and probable. The last and most crucial element we need now is a widespread belief across different segments of the society that every one of us is the game changer for this coming election and that every vote counts.

Let’s not give up our rights to decide our future.

An artist’s path to fame and fortune

An artist’s path to fame and fortune

An artist's path to fame and fortune

Geraldine Tong, 2 May 2017

It is not easy to find stability and exposure as an artist, especially in Asia. However, as popular Instagram account ‘Dudu De Doodle’ discovered, there are more ways than one for an artist to earn his or her keep.

Dudu De Doodle’s Instagram has close to 30,000 followers, who are treated daily to a new artwork from Dudu, the anonymous artist behind the account.

But Dudu did not start off as an ‘Instagram-famous’ artist. And until today, he is not even a full-time artist.

“As an artist, it is quite challenging in Asia. You cannot really sell your products through the Internet.

“I tried to sell (my artwork) once, three years ago. I drew on shirts, shoes, clocks, but it was so difficult I almost gave up.

“I still have some of the merchandise at home,” Dudu said in an interview with Malaysiakini last week.

After his failed venture to sell his artworks online, he said he decided to change his perception.

“I thought, why not put all the sales and money aside, and just do it for my own interest?” he said.

So, in October 2013, Dudu started his Instagram account under the pseudonym ‘Dudu de Doodle’, in which where he posted his artwork, daily.

Instagram in 2013 was a different landscape than it is now. In 2013, ‘Instagram influencers’ was still a fairly new phenomenon in Malaysia.

Though the account started out slow, it picked up speed eventually, reaching its zenith in 2015, when he was getting hundreds of new followers every day.

“I didn’t know that, as an artist, one can achieve the level of an ‘influencer’.

“After I slowly moved to an influencer level, I realised that when the owner or the agency really respects (your work), you can do whatever you want, as long as you don’t breach the rules.

“That’s the priceless thing that money can’t buy,” Dudu said.

He lamented that it is usually a challenge to get Malaysians to recognise local talent.

“We don’t even have a chance,” he said, citing the example of the famous murals in Penang, which were painted by Lithuania-born artist Ernest Zacharevic.

However, his popularity on Instagram brought him opportunities to showcase his art on a larger scale.

Dudu is currently working on a promotion campaign with technology giant Samsung, as well as on smaller mural projects in cafes throughout Kuala Lumpur and the Klang valley.

Despite all that, Dudu values his anonymity for various reasons, the most important of which is that he wants his art to speak for itself.

Experimenting use of coffee as paint

The pictures of his artwork on his Instagram has always featured a strong link to food. Then, about two years ago, he took it one step further and began experimenting with using coffee as paint and the nearest flat surface as the canvas.

Going through his Instagram account, one can find artworks ranging from those inspired from Japanese animation to Western superhero portraits.

A particular favourite of his, Dudu pointed out, is his portrait of Wonder Woman, painted entirely with coffee on his table at home.

It's rainy day but never too cold for kakigori. Hey Polar, I'm not a shaved ice, Totoro said ?. #mykori

A post shared by DuDu Doodles The World (@dududedoodle) on

He spent about 45 minutes drawing that portrait and he loved the end product so much, he told his fiancee that he wanted to keep it on the table for as long as possible.

“In the next second, I spilled water on it,” he said with a laugh.

That is the ephemeral fate for all his coffee paintings on tables, he said.

“It is a love-hate piece because you really love it but you cannot keep it. It is just a good memory that I store on Instagram,” he explained.

The first time he attempted a coffee painting was a portrait of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, at a ‘kopitiam’.

The art attracted the those operating hawker stalls at the outlet, but the kopitiam owner wiped off his art, saying that Dudu had vandalised his table.

Unfortunately, Dudu said, that was not the last time someone accused him of vandalising their property, for people do not understand it is supposed to be art.

He then related an incident in Singapore, where he drew a coffee painting on an al fresco table of a coffeeshop. He then left.

Later on, when he walked past the coffeeshop again, he noticed that the table he had painted on, which was outside the shop, had been moved inside, and put up as a display.

“That was the happiest thing for me,” he said, to see that his art was being appreciated.

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Following the money on lucrative illegal Indo-M’sia maid trade

Following the money on lucrative illegal Indo-M’sia maid trade

Following the money on lucrative illegal Indo-M’sia maid trade

Malaysiakini & Tempo, 25 April 2017

Ten months after she ran away from home, Yufrinda Selan eventually returned a day before her 19th birthday. But it wasn’t tears of joy that greeted her.

Yufrinda’s family howled as her body, wrapped in a shroud, arrived in a white coffin at their hometown in Batu Putih, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia.

Her father, Mentusalak Selan, did not dare to open the wooden box as it bore another name – Melinda Sapay.

False document / PIX Gamaliel

“I was scared of making a mistake,” Mentusalak said when met earlier this month.

It was only after a provincial officer from Indonesia’s Migrant Workers Placement and Protection Body showed Yufrinda’s photo that Metusalak was willing to open the coffin. His daughter was inside.

Yufrinda was born on July 15, 1997. On her birthday last year, local police lifted the lid on her coffin, which was kept at a hospital mortuary.

Her family members identified her from a mole on her leg. But they were also shocked as there were stitches all over her body and bruises on her face.

“They said she hung herself and died at the home of her employer in Malaysia,” Mentusalak (photo) said.

Based on investigations by the police in Kupang, the provincial capital of East Nusa Tenggara, Yufrinda was recruited by a local human trafficking network that also involved experts in forging travel documents.

They identified former police officer Eduard Leneng and Diana Aman, who owned two private manpower agencies – PT Pancamanah Utama and PT Jaya Abadi – as individuals responsible for recruiting and sending Yufrinda to Malaysia.

Both of them were charged with various related offences earlier this month.

According to the charge sheet, Eduard was involved in forging Yufrinda’s documents, before she was handed over to Diana.

Met early last December, Eduard denied any involvement in human trafficking activities. “I have never dealt with the people who recruited Yufrinda,” he said.

Diana and her lawyer Edwin Manurung, on the other hand, reserved their comments. “For the meantime, no comments,” said Edwin.

Not the only maid to return as corpse

Yufrinda’s end is not an isolated case. Official Indonesian statistics from last year revealed that 33 migrant workers from the province returned home as corpses, including from Malaysia.

“Until today, trafficking of migrants from NTT to Malaysia is still rampant,” said Melki Musu, a coordinator for a local human trafficking watchdog.

East Nusa Tenggara is Indonesia’s southernmost province and most commonly referred to by the initials for its Indonesian name, Nusa Tenggara Timur or NTT.

Kupang district police chief Adjie Indra revealed that there have been more than 2,200 migrant workers from across NTT – spanning more than 500 islands across 48,718.1 square kilometres of land and sea – who have fallen victim to human trafficking syndicates over the last two years.

The figure was obtained from witness statements and suspects interrogated by the police. “There are at least seven human trafficking networks based in NTT,” Adjie said.

He noted that police have yet to crack down on all of the networks. “It will be done in stages,” he added.

According to Adjie, some of the human trafficking networks are funded by maid services and manpower agencies in Malaysia. “Their modus operandi is the same and it involves a big man in Malaysia.”

Money trail from Malaysia to Indonesia recruiters

Joint investigations into the human trafficking trail involving players in East Nusa Tenggara in Medan and Malaysia by Malaysiakini and Tempo started in September last year.

Their crossing paths could clearly be traced from records of their transactions between January 2015 and August last year. Almost as thick as a ream of paper, it details the flow of nearly RM1 million from Malaysia to NTT, meant for recruiting workers.

The largest transactions were from a woman named Oey Wenny Gotama.

For one year, from August 2015, records showed that Oey Wenny had transferred at least RM646,000, or nearly two million rupiah, to Seri Safkini, owner of PT Cut Sari Asih – an Indonesian recruitment agency based in Medan, Sumatera.

On June 28 last year, Oey Wenny transferred RM28,000, recorded as “deposit for five TKW”. TKW is the acronym for tenaga kerja wanita or female workers, while TKI refers to tenaga kerja Indonesia, meaning both male and female workers.

Seri Safkini then distributed the money to her contacts in NTT. One recipient was identified as Yohanes Leonardus Ringgi, a security officer at Kupang’s El Tari Airport. There were 155 transactions over a 12-month period beginning August 2015, amounting to RM600,000 according to present exchange rates.

Yohanes Ringgi was met on three separate occasions, while behind bars after his arrest last November, for alleged human trafficking offences. Reluctant to speak at first, he finally opened up on the human trafficking networks in NTT on the third meeting.

He admitted to receiving orders to recruit potential domestic helpers to be sent to Malaysia, from Eduard Leneng and Diana Aman, among others. Yohanes Ringgi also named Seri Safkini.

“They will send me money,” he said.

According to records of the transactions, the amount he received from Diana and Eduard was more than RM83,000.

Having worked as an airport security officer for 16 years, Yohanes Ringgi’s other duty was to ensure that potential workers would pass through all immigration checks. He admitted to have sent more than 400 workers to Malaysia from Medan and Surabaya. “For every one worker I will get 500,000 rupiah”.

Runaway teens enticed by making big bucks

Even children were not spared. Tempo met with Damaris Nifu and Jeni Maria Tekun, two underaged workers who Yohanes tried smuggle out. The duo were questioned by Kupang’s district police.

Both of them have received primary school education. They were not even 16 years old when first approached by Yanto and Mama Nona, two of Yohanes‘ underlings who were arrested sometime in mid-2015.

They ran away from home after being lured with a three million rupiah monthly salary – at a time when the local minimum wage was only 1.25 million rupiah. They were then kept at PT Cut Sari Asih’s office.

“We were harshly treated. Some were beaten and kicked,” recalled Jeni. Damaris and Jeni were later sent to Banda Acheh, but they eventually fled after being mistreated by their employers.

For children like Damaris and Jeni, their journey must start by creating a “new identity” – primarily to meet the legal employment age.

In Malaysia, a domestic helper candidate must be at least 21, while those employed in other sectors can be as young as 18.

Before departing for Medan, the two girls were furnished with forged identification cards.

All that was needed to do this was rudimentary graphic design skills and a computer equipped with Adobe Photoshop. The maker was a local university student named Sipri Talan who has connections with a number of labour recruiters.

“For every single fake KTP (identification card) I will get 100,000 rupiah (about RM30),” Sipri said when met in his detention cell at the Kupang district police station.

The new ID was then used to make their passports. The next step, according to Yohanes, would involve collusion with immigration officers in charge of issuing new passports.

The passport belonging to Yufrinda Selan, who died in Malaysia – issued under the name Melinda Sapay – was made by Godstar Mozes Banik, an immigration officer at Kupang’s El Tari airport.

This was according to the charge sheet against Eduard. Godstar, however, denied his role in abetting traffickers to produce the migrant workers’ passports. “Everything was done according to procedure,” he said.

Yufrinda’s case has been an important lesson for the Indonesian Immigration Department, the country’s Immigration director-general Ronny Franky Sompie said. “We will be more vigilant when dealing with passport applications,” he said.

M’sian employers paying double the set recruitment fee

Meanwhile, in Bandar Puchong Jaya, Selangor, a large yellow sign marks the entrance to the company NG Bersatu. The company’s name is written in capital letters and promotes its services as a “maid supplier”. There is an accompanying image of a woman in uniform while holding a toddler, both of them smiling.

The main office is located on the first floor. At the back of its spacious working area, there is a small room. A double-decker bed takes up most of the available space there. There is no window and only a fan.

The room is where Sarlin Agustina Djingib was taken to in August 2015, after she arrived in Malaysia. The migrant worker from East Nusa Tenggara was recruited by a human trafficking network involving Yohanes Ringgi.

At the time, she was still a teenager and below the legal employment age of 21. “All of my fake documents were made by Yohanes’ underlings,” Sarlin told police officers from Kupang, who recorded her statement at the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur last December.

From her hometown in NTT, Sarlin was flown to Batam, an Indonesian province a short boat ride away from Johor. The journey of more than 3,800km would have taken her about seven hours, based on available flight details, including transit time in Surabaya or Jakarta. There is no direct flight between the two provinces.

In Batam, Sarlin was met by Angellin Wijaya, the daughter of Seri Safkini, owner of PT Cut Sari Asih. “Angellin sent me to the Batam Centre port to cross over into Johor Bahru,” she said.

An unidentified man then drove her the entire five-hour journey to NG Bersatu’s office in Puchong.

After staying one night in the room, Sarlin said she was picked up by her employer, Madam Jasmin. “I paid RM19,000 to NG Bersatu,” said Jasmin who accompanied Sarlin to the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

The cost is more than double the RM8,400 recruitment fee agreed upon by both governments. And until today, Sarlin still does not have a valid work permit.

Click on the arrow below to follow Sarlin’s journey Malaysia in the interactive map below, or click here to view the map.

Malaysian recruiter unaware maids underaged

Kupang police also recorded Oey Wenny Goetama’s statement at the embassy, in connection with investigations into the human trafficking network that snared Sarlin.

Oey Wenny claimed to represent NG Bersatu. “I don’t know anything about human trafficking,” she said when met at the embassy last December, before rushing off. Oey Wenny also denied channelling funds for the recruitment of potential workers.

NG Bersatu’s manager, Ng Jing Hao, however contradicted Wenny.

“She handles our suppliers (Indonesian agencies). We pay her and she passes on the money to agencies in Indonesia,” Ng said when met at his office on March 15. However, he declined to reveal the exact amount that has been channelled to Indonesia.

Ng also insisted that he has never broken any Malaysian laws related to recruitment and placement of migrant workers. “We don’t take underaged workers. We go according to their passports.”

Ng said he wouldn’t know if any of them were underaged. “So far when they come into Malaysia through the immigration process, they all have no problems. Their fingerprints are all okay,” he said.

“If the maid is underaged, we don’t want them,” he stressed.

He admitted that NG Bersatu had a brief partnership with PT Cut Sari Asih “quite long” ago. But Sarlin was not one of the recruits.

“She came to Malaysia via another agent. We just helped her to find an employer,” said Ng who also admitted to taking a cut from Jasmin’s payment.

Repeated attempts to obtain a response from Seri Safkini and her daughter Angellin Wijaya were unsuccessful.

Their house (photo) at a high-end neighbourhood in West Jakarta appeared to be deserted. The local security guard later confirmed that both women were no longer staying in the house, which was also used as a shelter for recruited workers.

In Medan, another shelter that belonged to the Cut Sari Asih firm was similarly empty, after a raid by local police in August last year. The main gate to the two-storey house has been chained.

Seri Safkini is also a fugitive. According to Kupang district police chief Adjie Indra, the firm has sent at least 251 workers, who ended up as undocumented immigrants in Malaysia.

A young ‘Datuk’ businessman

Back in NTT, another former recruiter admitted to receiving funds from Malaysia. The recruiter, Kobar, admitted he once sent six workers to a Malaysian named Albert Tei. “For each worker, I received 21 million rupiah,” said Kobar who was once detained for human trafficking. Besides Kobar, two manpower agency managers from Indonesia, and several others from Malaysia, also identified Tei as a major recruiter of Indonesian migrant workers. Tei is the general manager of ManPower88, a consortium of eight maid agencies. The 29-year-old, who holds the Datuk title, is also the owner of Maxim Birdnest, a factory based in Klang. A labour attache at the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Mustafa Kamal, revealed that he once questioned Tei on the number of workers he would bring in every month. According to Mustafa, Tei had admitted that he could “import” up to 100 Indonesian workers a month. “That is a very large number,” Mustafa added. By comparison, Malaysian National Association of Employment Agencies (Pikap) president Raja Zulkepley Dahalan said his members typically only recruit 20 workers a month. One of those brought to Malaysia from NTT is Seravina Dahu. Showed a picture of Tei, when met at her son’s home in Oesapa, Kupang, Seravina identified him as “my former boss”. Seravina, who is now a farmer, said that she never had a permit while working in Malaysia. “There were many others from NTT at Tei’s shelter, and the majority of them did not have proper documents,” she said. She also recounted how she often worked for more than 12 hours a day but was only given one meal: bread and plain water.

Met at his factory in Klang (photo), Tei vehemently denied claims of mistreatment and employing Indonesian workers illegally. “I only deal with legal (documented) workers,” he stressed. “If any of them came in using fake documents, I wouldn’t know because that is the responsibility of the agencies in Indonesia.”

Tei, who claimed to enjoy a close relationship with the police and immigration officers, also denied having recruited 100 workers a month.

“The most is 70 or 80 workers and that, too, during the time when Malaysia’s economy was still good. Now the most would only be 30 workers,” he said.

However, Tei admitted that he is known figure among labour recruiters in Indonesia.

“If in one month I recruit 50 workers, in two years that would be 1,200 workers. So it’s not a surprise if they mention my name back in their villages,” he pointed out.

In another conversation, he stressed he is unaware of irregularities in the recruitment process in Indonesia.

“We follow Malaysian law. So long as they have a valid passport and passed their medical check-up, we (Malaysian agencies) will process them (for placement). We don’t have the right to check whether their passports are fake or whatever,” Tei said.

All relevant documents, he explained, would also require endorsements from six parties – the Indonesian agency, Malaysian agency, the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian Labour Department, the maid and her employer.

Immigration collusion

There were some 1.2 million documented Indonesian workers in Malaysia as at the end of last year. But the Indonesian embassy’s labour attache estimates that the number of undocumented workers would be much higher. “The figure could be double,” Mustafa Kamal said.

Undocumented Indonesian workers work in plantations, restaurants and as sex workers. One of them, who introduced herself as Anggun from Jakarta, based her “operations” along Petaling Street. Anggun said a majority of the women working as sex workers in the area are Indonesians. “I have only been here a month,” she said.

Mustafa said both the Indonesian and Malaysian governments are facing difficulties to curb the flow of undocumented workers – and that one major factor is beyond their control. “There are some 150 hot spots along the countries’ borders that can be used as departure and entrance points for these workers,” he explained.

In Borneo, the land boundary has a length of 2,019.5km and separates the Indonesian provinces of North Kalimantan, East Kalimantan and West Kalimantan from Sabah and Sarawak. There is, however, only one official immigration point on either side – at Entikong in Indonesia and Tebedu in Malaysia.

The maritime boundaries between Indonesia and Malaysia, meanwhile, are located along four bodies of water – the Straits of Malacca, Straits of Singapore, South China Sea and Celebes Sea.

Collusion between authorities at official immigration counters has further compounded the problem.

At a popular nasi padang restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, two undocumented Indonesian workers – 28-year-old Ika Fatmawati and her cousin, 19-year-old Ines Nugraini – from Tangerang in Banten, West Java, shared how they arrived in Pasir Gudang, Johor, through Batam Centre port (photo) last Christmas.

“We were instructed to walk through counter Number 3. We were told that we would be ‘safe’,” said Ika.

Both of them only lasted two months working as cleaning service staff in Malacca. They never received their salary and were forbidden from leaving their hostel, unless they were heading to work. On Feb 22, they fled to Kuala Lumpur. “Now I feel free,” she said.

Johor Immigration director Rohaizi Bahari did not respond to requests for comment.

Ika’s fate is better than NTT native Yufrinda.

To this day, her father Mentusalak remains in the dark over his daughter’s real cause of death as there have been no investigations on allegations of assault. “I am convinced she was murdered,” he said.

Yufrinda’s employer, Conrad Wee, declined comment. “It was a very sad incident. I do not want to talk about it anymore,” Wee said, before driving out of his apartment building in Cheras (picture) where Yufrinda was said to have hung herself in the kitchen.

Inquiries with the police did not yield further information. When contacted, Bukit Aman’s D7 Division principal assistant director SAC Rohaimi Md Isa merely said the case was discussed by authorities from both countries on a bilateral platform.

“We have bilateral discussions with all neighbouring countries facing issues of human trafficking. It is for the purpose of facilitating investigations and enforcements,” Rohaimi said.

However, Indonesian Migrant Workers Protection Task Force chief in Malaysia, Yusron B Ambary, said a request has been made to local authorities to probe Yufrinda’s case. “Only the Malaysian police have the power to investigate,” he said.

In the meantime, Mentuselak Selan, Yufrinda’s father, continues to light a candle by his daughter’s grave – hoping for the spark that would reveal the truth.

Reporting by Stefanus Teguh Edi Pramono and Yohanes Seo from Tempo and Alyaa Alhadjri from Malaysiakini.

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Blind; but doesn’t lose sight on the importance of education

Blind; but doesn’t lose sight on the importance of education

He lost his vision at the age of four, but his father’s foresight on the importance of education eventually saw Mah Hassan Omar graduating and practising as Malaysia’s first visually impaired lawyer.

Born in Besut, Terengganu in 1961, at the age of seven, Mah Hassan was sent to pursue his primary education at Johor Bahru’s Princess Elizabeth special school for the blind – a train journey which even today would take up to 17 hours from Wakaf Baru in Kelantan, the nearest station to his hometown.

By the time he entered secondary school, Mah Hassan has integrated into the mainstream system where one or two visually impaired pupils will be placed in an ordinary classroom with other sighted students.

During an interview held at his law firm in Sentul, which is also the office for KL Braille Resources, Mah revealed how his father had fought societal norms and approached the Welfare Department for assistance to provide him with an education that would help him to lead an independent life.

The law graduate from Universiti Malaya went on to earn his master’s degree at Southampton University, United Kingdom, before returning home for a 13-year stint with the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange. In 2005, he left to set up his own law firm.

The early realisation that education is the key to assisting people with disabilities has shaped Mah Hassan to be an advocate for their rights to equal access to information – including pioneering a project to produce a braille version of the Quran.

At the age of 56, Mah Hassan is a father of six – three girls and three boys – the eldest three of whom are pursuing their higher education.

He has set many personal records and aims to inspire others like him.

Here is Mah Hassan’s story in his own words:

AS A YOUNG BOY, I WAS SO ENTHUSIASTIC TO GO TO SCHOOL. But for my parents, as I understood it, it was very challenging.

They had to face the reality of how to part with their blind boy. Also, the people and neighbours accused them of them being irresponsible.

My father told me every time I leave the house to go to school, he could not follow me. He always thought about what the people were saying.

My mother will send me because my mother is stronger in that sense.

FOR ALL PARENTS OUT THERE, I wish to urge all of you who have children with disabilities, give your children an education.

With education, you are giving him or her the important equipment to live independently.

You can give them as much money as you can afford but the money will go. If you give them education, it will stay with them forever.

IN ADDITION TO ACADEMIC SKILLS, I always see that primary education provided me with an important background, basic skills that prepared me to lead an independent life. In other words, being a blind person, we were taught how to groom and take care of ourselves. How to live independently.

For every blind child, I see survival skills as a very important factor. Because even with academic success, without the necessary guidance, from my observations it would be very difficult to survive in life.

COMPETITION WAS STIFFER DURING SECONDARY SCHOOL. I managed to continue until Form 6, before pursuing my degree in law at Universiti Malaya. As a matter of fact, I was the first blind person in the country to take up law.

When I was called to the bar in January 1989, again I created a Malaysian record as the first blind person in the country to get legal certification as an advocate and solicitor.

Why do I stress on the records? Because the greatest challenge for blind students is a lack of books.

I PRACTICALLY DID NOT HAVE ANY BOOKS AVAILABLE IN BRAILLE. So I had to double my efforts.

I spent the greatest part of my time in university to transcribe books into braille. During my school time, the blind at the time did not even have any copy of the Quran in braille.

The Quran is the basis for Islamic books so I think it is a denial of our right to have equal access to the Quran.

BESIDES STUDIES AND PROMOTING MY LEGAL PRACTICE, I was also active in NGOs that provide services for the blind.

I was president of the Society of the Blind in Malaysia from 2000 to 2010. I am also co-founder of the Malaysian Blind Muslims Association and served as president from 1989 to 2002, before I resigned for the benefit of younger leaders.

Now I am still active in the associations but perhaps to a lesser degree.

IN 2002 WE COMPLETED THE DRAFT FOR THE PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES ACT. I headed the technical working committee and the Act came into force in 2008.

It was a five-year process. It took quite a while because in 2006 the UN came out with the first international convention on rights of people with disabilities, so we have to fine-tune our proposed bill.

I was given the privilege to represent the country at the UN in 2006 when we negotiated for the convention.

MY EMPHASIS IS MORE TO PROMOTE THE RIGHT TO LITERACY AMONG THE BLIND. The rights for blind people to have equal access to reading materials in braille.

Be it for education or any other pursuit. Our focus is mainly on transcribing Islamic religious books as well as academic books.

We believe these two genres have been sidelined.

WITHIN ONE WEEK OF MY ARRIVAL IN THE UK IN 1991, I WAS GIVEN A COPY OF THE BIBLE IN BRAILLE FOR FREE. It gave me a challenge.

If Christian voluntary groups can work to give free Bibles, why can’t we Muslims provide free Quran? So that’s what I tried to do.

When I came back to Malaysia, we worked on a research project to produce the Quran in braille and now we have the capacity here at KL Braille Resources.

In order to finance the project, I launched what we called the Wakaf Al-Quran. We invite the public to sponsor any number of Quran as they wish and each set is priced at RM250.

With this sum, we finance the production of the Quran and distribute them to the needy.

I HAVE LOVED CHESS FROM A YOUNG AGE. I see chess not only as a competitive activity but for any disabled or blind person, it can also provide you with an opportunity to integrate with normal people.

EVEN THOUGH I AM BLIND, MY UNIVERSITY’S TEAM ACCEPTED ME JUST LIKE ANYBODY ELSE. I had taken part in an open tournament for selection for the university’s team.

I was the only blind person there. But I competed against sighted people and got third place.

They needed four people to fill the team. I also played in the UK’s chess league.

FOR THE 2009 AND 2010 PARALYMPICS, I WON GOLD FOR CHESS. Another achievement was in 2003 when I took part in the ASEAN Chess Championship for the Blind in Mumbai, India, and won second place.

Now I am still president of the National Chess Association for the Disabled and our members are busy preparing for the forthcoming paralympic games in Kuala Lumpur in September.

The current chess set produced by KL Braille is also being used exclusively for the paralympic games.

WHEN BLIND PEOPLE PLAY WITH SIGHTED PEOPLE, both players have to announce their move. The board is modified to allow for usage by blind people.

But we don’t compromise on the rules. There is no difference to the rules.

The black and white pieces, how a blind player can tell is based on touch.

BE IT VISION 2020 OR TN50, I wish to see that disability issues are not sidelined. The way I see it, disabled people should be given equal rights with other citizens.

They are not to be discriminated against or left out. They should be given all opportunities.

The movement to promote equal rights has been talked about since 1981.

IN THAT SENSE WE HAVE SEEN MUCH PROGRESS, but in some other areas, the progress is too slow. For example, we have difficulties with financial institutions.

Just to open bank accounts, have I always received grievances from my blind counterparts. They wanted to open bank accounts but are not allowed to by certain banks.

DISABILITY ISSUES ARE OFTEN NOT GIVEN ENOUGH COVERAGE. The media are prone to focus on issues that can trigger sympathy.

When you talk about disabled people, I think it is more worthwhile to talk about rights rather than individual challenges.

When doing a story, just ask yourself, who will benefit?

If it is just one or two people, how many stories do you want to do?

THE MEDIA RARELY HIGHLIGHT STORIES FROM THE OKU’S PERSPECTIVE. They will take a third person’s view.

If you want to talk about the problem of beggars, those selling tissues on the streets, just go and talk to them.

If authorities want to catch them for selling tissues, the first thing we must ask is, have we given them opportunities to make a living?

OPERATIONS TEND TO INCREASE WHEN THERE ARE BIG PROGRAMMES PLANNED. For example, if the prime minister is coming, they will be detained and put into trucks, sent off somewhere and asked to find their own way home.

If the breadwinner is arrested, how will those left at home survive?

Maybe the spouse will take the children to go out and beg.

WHEN THERE ARE NO JOB OPPORTUNITIES, what other choice do they have, at a time when even healthy able-bodied people are finding it difficult to find jobs?

What do you expect?

MALAYSIANS ARE VERY CARING. I don’t dispute that. But when it comes to giving disabled people their rights to lead independent lives, that’s when the problem starts.

For example, when you want to ride the LRT, the public is very caring. I don’t think we have any big problem anymore. The awareness is there.

But do you know that for people using wheelchairs, to have access, is it still very difficult? That is their right.

BEING BLIND IS NOTHING TO BE SHY ABOUT. As a matter of fact, we want to be treated just like any other ordinary people.

People often call us “golongan istimewa” or “kelainan upaya” (differently abled).

The term “orang kurang upaya” (disabled) shows that we have a disability but we are not pampered.

TREAT ME JUST LIKE ANY OTHER OF YOUR FRIENDS. If you can joke with and tease them, do the same to us.

What is the difference? We are the same. Just that it has been fated that we lost one of our senses.

VOX People

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Free from cancer, but shackled by discrimination

Free from cancer, but shackled by discrimination

Free from cancer, but shackled by discrimination

Ariv Chelvam, 11 April 2017

The battle against cancer is not only mentally and physically challenging, but also financially costly. Even after recovering from cancer, the battle does not end there as cancer survivors often find themselves shunned by employers.

For many, a second chance in life does not come by easy. Adam (not real name), is one such example.

Adam was diagnosed with Stage II Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in February 2016 and began his chemotherapy the same month.

By his third treatment, he was finding it difficult to cope with his job at a logistic company as he was suffering from weakness and fatigue. He resigned the following month.

Five months later, towards the tail end of his treatment in August 2016, Adam finally decided to rejoin the workforce and began applying for jobs.

However, even after he was declared cancer-free in October of that year, Adam was still unable to land a job.

Adam said he couldn’t go back to his old company as they had found a replacement.

“I don’t blame them because they found someone else to replace me, I was gone for a long time,” he said.

However, other companies were not keen on hiring him.

“When I told them (potential employers in interviews) that I just recovered from cancer, you can see their faces change, and we’re talking about big companies,” Adam told Malaysiakini.

He said it was different before he was diagnosed with cancer.

“It was very easy to get a job (at that time)… at my previous company, the boss was really nice, he was very supportive throughout my career.”

Adam finally landed a human resource job in December that year, after four months of persistent job-seeking.

Cancer and the civil service

Halimahton Shaari, 58, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, had a slightly different experience.

A 22-year veteran in education, Halimahton had no problem returning to the civil service the following year after her cancer treatment.

However, she noticed that some things had changed upon her return.

“… People did wonder if I was able to handle the work as they kept asking if I was okay and whether I could handle my work,” she said.

Halimahton said she had no problem keeping up but noted that cancer survivors do face challenges after recovery.

“As much as survivors think they can (cope with their usual work routine), they need the space to recover from (the) ravaging treatment of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

“Thus, they should be eased back to their work routine and not (be) immediately bombarded with demanding workload,” she said.

Halimahton, who continued to be involved in the decision-making process, stressed that the perception that cancer survivors cannot perform at work was wrong.

She resigned from the civil service early last year to pursue her personal interests, including volunteer work.

According to personal finance portal iMoney, cancer treatment can cost between RM56,000 to RM395,000 depending on the type of cancer.

The ASEAN Costs in Oncology study found 51 percent of cancer patients face financial difficulties within a year after diagnosis.

This makes it all the more imperative for cancer survivors to be able to find work.

Acknowledging the challenges faced by cancer survivors in the employment market, Hospital Kuala Lumpur’s Radiotherapy and Oncology Department, in cooperation with the National Cancer Society Malaysia, launched cancerfly.com last February.

Already, a number of companies have come on board the jobs portal for cancer survivors, which include Prudential BSN Takaful.

Higher cost to hire survivors

There are a number of reasons why employers are reluctant to hire cancer survivors, said Prudential BSN Takaful unit manager Norhaimah Muhamad.

“Some offices provide free medical (benefits) to all their staff. But if cancer survivors were to be employed, the office will need to pay more in terms of insurance premium, it’s basically stressing the management financially,” she said.

However, Norhaimah said Prudential BSN Takaful is willing to hire cancer survivors and urged them to enquire about jobs at their branches.

The company last February also set up a booth at Kuala Lumpur Hospital offering jobs to cancer survivors.

Lawyer Sonia Abraham said under Malaysian law, job applicants have a legal obligation to be truthful in their job application.

This includes being upfront and disclosing about one’s cancer, said Sonia, who specialises in employment law.

She said there are no specific laws to prevent discrimination against cancer sufferers but added that there were general provisions such as the Employment Act 1955 and Industrial Relations Act 1967, which protects the rights of all employees including cancer sufferers.

In the US, the American with Disabilities Act and Federal Rehabilitation Act specifically prohibits discrimination of employees who have or have had cancer.

Sonia said to date, there had not been any reported cases of an employee being dismissed due to cancer in Malaysia.

However, she said this does not mean there was no discrimination against cancer sufferers.

“There could be instances when an employer terminates an employee (as) they don’t want to deal with their health problems and then tries to find other reasons to justify their actions,” she said.

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Meet the Mah Meri women breaking Orang Asli stereotypes

Harith Najmuddin & Zikri Kamarulzaman, 7 April 2017

At first glance, Diana looks just like any other regular Malay woman. She has straight black hair, a light tan which Malays would describe as ‘kuning langsat’ (olive skin), and speaks without any accent.

She also has a degree in administration from Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Malacca, and works as a clerk at Serdang Hospital.

However, despite appearances and educational background, she is not a Malay, though many of her acquaintances initially think otherwise.

The 29-year-old whose full name is Diana Uju, is a member of the Mah Meri Orang Asli community from Pulau Carey, Selangor.

“My colleagues at work tell me ‘I never imagined you to be an Orang Asli, I’m proud to be friends with one’. I ask them why, and they tell me ‘you don’t look like an Orang Asli’,” Diana said with a laugh.

The mother of two is one of several Mah Meri women Malaysiakini met during a trip to Pulau Carey recently.

Though shy at first – as many people are when they first encounter a journalist – Diana quickly warmed up to share her views and life experiences.

She said many Malaysians look down on members of the community and have stereotypical views of them.

“People think the Orang Asli have curly hair, are dark-skinned, live in the forest, and don’t know anything, that’s why they think we can’t succeed.

“They have never met an educated Orang Asli, although there are many of us,” she said.

Diana’s success however, is uncommon in the community.

Among her seven siblings, she is the only one to pursue higher education and has a regular job, while the rest of her brothers and sisters work off the land.

The Orang Asli who don’t finish school face difficulties getting work she said, and those who do are often cheated out of their salaries by their employers.

According to the government’s Statistics Department, as of 2010, 76.9 percent of Orang Asli live below the poverty line, and 35.2 percent are living in hardcore poverty.

%

Below poverty line

%

Hardcore poverty

Malaysian Statistics Department (2010)

The situation, however, is changing. Diana believes, who said that she has met many Orang Asli graduates in UiTM reunions.

She also said that many Orang Asli are working with the government now, while others like her husband work in the private sector.

Meanwhile, other Orang Asli are seeking to empower the community through other means.

Among them is Rosiah Kengkeng, a fellow Mah Meri, who is determined to give Orang Asli women a voice.

A trainer and motivational speaker, Rosiah travels across the country to hold workshops in Orang Asli villages on how women, too, can play an important role in the community.

She said many Orang Asli women believed their only role is to take care of their children and their family.

“But that is not the case. We have husbands but they are less knowledgeable and are always busy finding work.”

“We women can also take action. Like managing our children’s schooling and when we get the opportunity, we can also contribute to the household income,” she said.

The mother of seven also pushes Mah Meri women to be more vocal about their concerns and problems.

She also encourages women to seek help if they suffer from domestic abuse, as she believes many of them keep it to themselves.

“We women have a right to speak out, don’t think that women only belong in the kitchen,” Rosiah said.

While Diana and Rosiah seek to break glass ceilings, one aspect they both seek to maintain is the culture and heritage of their people.

Rosiah said these are important to the identity of the Mah Meri, and should be passed down from one generation to the next.

Diana, however, said that many Orang Asli youths are seeking a more modern and simpler lifestyle.

“They don’t bother, they don’t realise the importance of preserving traditions,” she said.

She is not sure how one can balance traditions with modernity, but believes it is possible.

She added that the best way to preserve the Orang Asli’s traditions, is through education.

“Children should learn about our culture in school. Like my niece is in secondary school, but she is still learning (traditional) dancing,” Diana said.

She herself was a traditional dancer and had even held a traditional Mah Meri wedding when she tied the knot in 2014.

She is worried that if traditions are no longer practiced, it may just disappear.

“When people realise these customs are gone, they will be lost just like that,” Diana said.

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